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Infamous Nevada Brothel Closes

August 10, 1999

MUSTANG, Nev. (AP) _ The government took charge and the working girls took off, some of them leaving the Mustang Ranch in BMWs and Cadillacs.

After more than two decades of trying to padlock the infamous brothel, the government seized it Monday, ending one of the more colorful _ and criminal _ chapters of Nevada history.

Amid a crush of curious onlookers, the cooks, custodians, cashiers and prostitutes left the pink stucco ranch with their boxes, suitcases and bouquets of flowers.

``I don’t see why it closed. It’s not necessary. It’s ridiculous,″ said a prostitute who identified herself only as Dawn.

The property was handed over at 5 p.m., but the corporation that owns the brothel ceased business at 10:30 a.m. after the last bank deposit, said U.S. Customs Agent Ron Meseberg.

He wouldn’t say how much business the brothel did over the weekend, but added, ``They did quite well in the last week.″

The 104-room bordello, located on a sprawling 440-acre ranch just east of Reno, first made headlines in 1955, when it was opened by Joe Conforte during a time when prostitution was illegal.

In 1971, the Mustang Ranch became the state’s first legal brothel and led to the movement that resulted in legalized prostitution in 12 of Nevada’s 17 counties.

But the government long has contended that Conforte paid off local officials and skirted taxes. Guilty verdicts against the brothel’s parent companies and manager in a federal fraud and racketeering trial last month ended the government’s crusade to close it.

James Collie, chief Internal Revenue Service investigator for the southwestern United States, said the government intended to keep it closed until a court determines if there are valid claims against the property.

``There is no intention of the government to operate it as a brothel,″ he said.

Conforte declared bankruptcy in 1990, and the IRS auctioned the ranch off to recover some of the $13 million in back taxes it said he owed.

Victor Perry, the only bidder, bought it for $1.49 million on behalf of Mustang Properties Inc., and the bordello reopened in 1992. Conforte was on the lam from tax authorities at the time.

The government contended at trial that Mustang Properties was simply a front set up by Conforte to continue profiting from the $5 million-a-year brothel. Witnessed testified that he remained on retainer as a $10,000-a-month consultant and that 10 times that amount was siphoned from the brothel to South America, where Conforte is believed to be living.

Among Monday’s spectators was Mike Avent from Baltimore, who stopped by with his wife after a family reunion to see the ``death of the Mustang Ranch.″

``It’s too bad it’s going away,″ he said.

Dennis Hof expects the closing of Nevada’s best-known brothel to boost business at his Moonlight Bunnyranch, a 15-minute drive from the state Capitol.

``We’re going to take over where the Mustang left off, except in a classy manner,″ he said.

One prostitute at the Moonlight Bunnyranch, who formerly worked at the Mustang, said she can’t imagine what her former coworkers are going to do.

``I’d probably just go be a waitress somewhere,″ said the woman, who gave her name as Jesi. ``I wouldn’t go work at any other house. Been there and done that.″

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